Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 66 Reconciliation with Adams

THE beginning of the exchanges between Adams and Jefferson seemed on the surface formal enough. That awkwardness to which Jefferson adverted had first to be broken down. "As you are a Friend to American Manufactures under proper restrictions," wrote Adams, "especially Manufactures of the domestic kind, I take the Liberty of Sending you by the Post a Packett containing two Pieces of Homespun lately produced in this quarter by one who was honoured in his youth with some of your Attention and much of your kindness."

After some news of his family, Adams concluded with ceremonious politeness: "I wish you Sir many happy New Years and that you may enter the next and many Succeeding Years with as animating Prospects For the Public as those at present before Us. I am Sir with a long and Sincere Esteem your Friend and Servant John Adams."

It was formal, it was halting, it was awkward, as if Adams did not quite know where to begin. Or at least so it seemed. But it was enough!

Jefferson replied, himself embarrassed, yet adding just that sufficient touch of warmth which permitted a future gradual unfolding. He thanked Adams for the samples of homespun that had not yet arrived. Still feeling his way, he entered into a long dissertation on the state of manufactures in Virginia. Then the log jam loosened: "A letter from you calls up recollections very dear to my mind. It carries me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow-laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his rights of self-government." In spite of all troubles, "so we have gone on, and so we shall go on puzzled and prospering beyond example in the history of man." But the stories of France and England had come out differently. "With all their preëminence in science, the one is a den of robbers, and the other of pirates. And if science," proceeded Jefferson, warming to his theme, "produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest and estimable, as our neighboring savages are." This of course was flying in the face of everything that the Enlightenment-and Jefferson believed in, and represented nothing more than a temporary revulsion on his part.

But enough of politics. He had given them up, together with newspapers, for Tacitus and Thucydides, Newton and Euclid; and for his memories. Of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, only seven remained alive. "You and I have been wonderfully spared," he concluded. His own

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